The unemployment rate in the Washington region decreased in April by four-tenths of a percentage point to 5.4 percent, according to a Labor Department report released Wednesday, which also showed that as the economy improves in many sections of the country, this region no longer is a leader in creating jobs.
The region’s not-seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell to 5.4 percent in April from 6.0 percent the year before. In March, it dropped to 5.8 percent from 6.6 percent the year before. Metropolitan Washington’s unemployment rate in April was still below the nation’s not-seasonally adjusted rate of 8.7 percent, which tumbled from 9.5 percent a year earlier.
After 17 consecutive months of mass layoffs in many sectors, Metropolitan Washington in April 2010 became the first major metropolitan region to turn the corner in the economic downturn, posting a higher net gain than net loss of jobs on an annual basis. During that time, while many metropolitan areas were still losing jobs, the Washington region every month reported an annual growth ranging from 25,000 to 70,000 jobs.
The latest report showed the region from April to April gained 25,700 jobs, a 0.9 percent increase. But during that period, Dallas was up 83,100 jobs, followed by Houston (51,100), and Los Angeles and Chicago (30,000).
Even the nation’s rate of job creation, 1.1 percent, surpassed the region’s.
“Most metropolitan areas around the country are showing job increases, which I think is a good sign,” said John McClain, deputy director of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University.
“Houston and Dallas — they’re both energy economies. We see them doing extremely well when gas prices go up,” McClain added. Job growth in the Los Angeles and Chicago regions are “just part of normal recovery.”
Analysts say that the long-standing job gains in the Washington region have boosted consumer confidence, one reason why it is the only major metropolitan area to see a rise in the price of single-family houses on the latest Standard & Poor’s Case-Shiller index. If the job growth continues across the country, analysts said they expect to see similar improvements in the housing market in other metropolitan areas over time.
Still, the rising housing prices in the Washington region have not yet translated into a turnaround in construction. Locally, while most of the sectors showed steady increases, construction continued to lose jobs. The April report showed the sector was down 6,500 jobs.
While work on multi-family buildings is increasing, it has not made up for the loss of road, highway and other projects funded by federal stimulus dollars.
“Privately financed construction is beginning, but the pace has not been enough to offset the impact of reduced public sector funding” for infrastructure projects, said Anirban Basu, chief economist at Associated Builders and Contractors and chairman and chief executive of the Baltimore economic consulting firm Sage Policy Group.
Carol Chatham, spokeswoman for the William C. Smith development company, said the firm expects to begin hiring later this year for Northwest One, an apartment and retail project at North Capitol and M streets NW. “We are anticipating there will be a greater need [for new workers] next fall and next spring than over the past three to four years,” Chatham said, adding that the firm is planning a “job readiness clinic” to train people for construction jobs.
The sectors that posted net job gains were professional and business services, up 16,600; retail, up 8,300; leisure and hospitality, up 2,900; government, up 3,800; and education and health, up 1,400. Job losses in other sectors, when subtracted from the job gains, resulted in a total gain of 25,700 jobs for the April-to-April period.
Jobs grew at a faster pace nationally than in the Washington region in professional and business services, education and health, leisure and hospitality and manufacturing.
“Our growth is back to normal level and we’re starting to moderate some,” McClain said.
Unemployment levels dropped in 297 of the 372 metropolitan areas, according to the Labor Department.
The El Centro, Calif., region had the highest unemployment rate: 27.9 percent. The region with the lowest was Bismarck, N.D., with 2.9 percent.